What about the holy war, the bloody battles among Christians, and the general accounts of medieval barbarism, it is common to perceive the Middle Ages as more pious than the atheist modern era.
But that may not be the case. In a new paper, ‘The Gospel of Deviance’, satire researcher Dennis Meyhoff Brink from the University of Copenhagen has traced the early roots of religious criticism to the 12th century and argues that satire actually played a greater role in the spread of democratic values in the Middle Ages. Europe than Christianity itself.
The seeds of dissent
It was during the 12th century, battle-bang in the midst of the Crusades, that critical writings mocking the pope and his cardinals, accusing them of ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘greed’, first began to emerge.
Reading skills were relatively low at the time. “Religious satire in the Middle Ages was an underground phenomenon that was communicated anonymously by a few learned men. It really took off with the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and the Reformation in the 16th century, ”Brink explains.
His dissertation documents the transition of tropics of religious satire to mainstream art and literature.
Learned in art
“The playwright Molière’s play ‘Tartuffe’ from 1664 is a prime example. It displays religious authority as misleading and hypocritical. It was so successful that words like ‘tartuffery’ started appearing in dictionaries to denote hypocrisy, ”says Brink.
He argues that this example, and many like it, of change in language and imagination created by satire had lasting effects on the popular perception of authority and the self.
“Satire gives us a different perspective. Especially in the Age of Enlightenment, it gave Europeans the courage to step out of our submission to state and church. That is what the Enlightenment philosopher Kant talks about when he describes the ‘enlightened human being’, “he continues.
A formative influence
Brink therefore argues that satire proved to be more influential in the spread of democracy than Christianity.
‘Satire is a particular form of criticism. It reveals abuses of power and privileges, and it takes liberties that other types of criticism cannot, ”he dares.
“It was extremely widespread in Europe. It is very likely that it has had a formative impact on European culture. “
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Source: The Nordic Page